Having been in his house during school naive young Lt. Stephen Croft (Peter Firth) idolises Maj. John Gresham (Malcolm McDowell - Easy A) and having become a pilot manages to wangle it that he is sent as a replacement to the 76 Squadron where Gresham is in charge. Quickly informed by the cynical Lt. Crawford (Simon Ward - All Creatures Great and Small) that life expectancy for replacements is only 14 days Croft tries to fit in but discovers war is very different than he expects, from the loss of friends to how it changes people.
Either "Aces High" is sublimely brilliant or seriously flawed and I can't make up my mind which it is. My trouble comes from how it comes across because here we have a movie which basically recaptures what life was like for pilots during WWI where they have to deal with the shadow of a short life expectancy hanging over them. Now this is presented in a lot of bravado, the Officer's sing around the piano most nights having a laugh even when someone close dies, they take journeys to town and basically seem to be have a good old time stationed in France. Issues are highlighted such as Gresham needing alcohol to fly and Crawford scared of flying but it all seems to much like old boys having fun. Yet then part of me wonders whether this is sublimely brilliant in showing how to cope with the likelihood of death the men live in a state of delussionment refusing to acknowledge death be it fear of their own or when someone close dies.
I really don't know which "Aces High" is and it makes it a movie which whilst getting across the harshness of war, as we do see the likes of Crawford unable to continue due to fear, then seems very false in the way the men act. It doesn't help matters that between cliche elements and thin characters everything ends up being over played to try and be effective. When Gresham gets angry at Crawford for wanting to leave his outburst doesn't ring true because Malcolm McDowell seems to be trying too hard to be cold and tough. And it also doesn't help that certain aspects of the look don't ring true either such as the perfectly quaffed Simon Ward in every scene. Basically at times it feels like director Jack Gold has turned what may have been a very real drama into something cliche with forced elements.
Now I've already mentioned Malcolm McDowell and Simon Ward just two recognizable faces who appear with such war movie veterans such as Trevor Howard and Ray Milland although in truth these war movie veterans have little to do. To be honest only one performance impressed me and that came from Christopher Plummer as Capt. 'Uncle' Sinclair because to me he was the only actor who didn't over force things, showing the kinder side of a man who has lived through war and knows how tough it is with out it affecting him.
But here is the thing, whilst I don't know whether "Aces High" is brilliant or not what is great are the aerial dogfight scenes. Watching the actual planes being flown in close quarters is impressive and it is the only time when director Jack Gold really creates a believable sense of atmosphere.
What this all boils down to is that "Aces High" could be sublimely brilliant in its portrayal of the life of pilots in WWI but I find myself siding more with it being flawed. It is still worth a watch thanks to the brilliant dogfight cinematography but the whole image of pilots having fun in the face of death may feel forced as it did for me.
Tags: World War I